Ontario funding broadband for public libraries in unserved and underserved communities
The Ontario government is investing more than $4.8 million to upgrade broadband at public libraries in unserved and underserved communities. By investing in improved broadband at public libraries, the province is providing greater community access to education and vital services, while creating more economic opportunity for residents.
“Ontario’s public libraries are an important part of our communities and provide a wide range of information, programs and services. Now more than ever, communities need faster and more reliable access to these resources,” said Laurie Scott, Minister of Infrastructure. “Our investment will make it easier to use local libraries for learning, accessing services and connecting with others.”
This provincial investment will help many communities bridge the digital divide to ensure residents have access to online information and resources. The Ontario Library Service will oversee and deliver the project. As a first step in the broadband upgrade process, site surveys and assessments will be conducted to identify eligible library branches, with priority given to those with inadequate broadband located within five kilometres of a secondary school.
“From supporting lifelong learning to providing access to resources that help to build strong, vibrant communities, Ontario’s public libraries make a real difference in people’s lives across the province,” said Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. “Increasing broadband capabilities at public libraries will help provide Ontarians with better access to digital resources and services, including digital collections, online skills training and career development. I’m proud that our government is making this important investment to ensure people and communities across Ontario stay connected through improved broadband.”
This investment is part of Up to Speed: Ontario’s Broadband and Cellular Action Plan. On November 4, 2020, the Ontario government announced an investment of $680 million on top of its existing commitment to improve connectivity in the province, leading to a historic investment of nearly $1 billion over six years.
“Robust broadband access through the public library is increasingly critical to the well-being of local communities,” said Andrea Cecchetto, President of the Ontario Library Association. “The Ontario government’s strategic investment will ensure that tens of thousands of people in small, rural and northern communities, as well as First Nations, will have the high-speed broadband necessary for fair access to the e-resources and learning opportunities they need to succeed.”
Through the Public Library Operating Grant, the government provides $21 million in annual operating funding to nearly 400 public and First Nations public libraries.
Ontario has invested in several initiatives to improve connectivity for homes and businesses in Northern Ontario, including broadband projects through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and the Next Generation Network Program. This includes a recent $10.9 million investment to help bring faster broadband to several towns and First Nation communities.
The province is providing the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) with $71 million to improve access to cellular service and mobile broadband in Eastern Ontario and is investing more than $63 million in the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to expand high-speed broadband in Southwestern Ontario.
On July 9, 2020, the province launched the Improving Connectivity for Ontario (ICON) program, a multi-year program that aims to support approved broadband and cellular projects as early as Spring 2021. Ontario also announced in November 2020, that it was doubling funding in the program to $300 million.
Expanding access to broadband is part of Ontario Onwards: Ontario’s COVID-19 Action Plan for a People-Focused Government, which includes more than 30 projects that will change the way people and businesses interact with government.
As many as 12 per cent of households in Ontario – or about 1.4 million people – are underserved or unserved, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
As of April 2021, Ontario’s two library service organizations will amalgamate into a single library service board, the Ontario Library Service organization, which will streamline administrative functions and increase efficiency and consistency in the delivery of services across the province.